New Kid On The Block: Oak + Raleigh

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs that night. With the weather warming up, patio season is fast approaching. This spring, one place I'll be adding to my patio tour will probably be Homewood's Oak + Raleigh. Though they're still working on their patio, it should be a cool spot to hang out with a frosty beer on a warm day.

Nestled in the heart of West Homewood, Oak + Raleigh is a  combination of bar and deli. But don't expect plain deli sandwiches or the usual five domestic beers -- this neighborhood joint is trying to put itself on the map for its mixture of elevated deli cuisine, traditional bar snacks, and a wide-ranging selection of beers and wines, many of which are available for carry-out purchase.

The space inside is a whimsical blend of arcade, bar, and restaurant. They serve beer and wine only, but offer about 100 beers in cans and on draft and around 30 bottles of wine to go. Brock Owen, the bar manager, made some pretty cool beer suggestions throughout the evening -- I started with the Bosteels Pauwel Kwak, a traditional Belgian ale served in a really, really cool glass. Adam began with the Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabazo, which was light and floral on the nose, with a pleasantly sour, well-balanced (and dry) body. Tasty.

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs the night we ate there.

On the food side, much of their produce is sourced from their owners' garden, and what's not is purchased as locally as possible. Despite the small kitchen, all of their pickles and pâté are made in house. While we were there, we started with the Pâté B&J. The texture was nicely varied, with crisp apple, crunchy bacon, and sweet fig jam setting off the creamy pâté.

IMG_1529Next up was the Pâté, Pigs, and Pickle, which combined the same pâté with salami, their house pickled veggies, and herb cream cheese spread. Once again, great texture. This plate contains a lot of food, so we ended up bringing some pickles home.

IMG_1532For our main courses, we stayed simple: I got the French Dip and Adam got the Cuban. Both were a step away from the ordinary: the French Dip sauce was a rich, delicious concoction of soy, worcestershire, butter, garlic, and cayenne. It's also their best-selling sandwich, and it's clear that the secret is in the sauce. Adam went so far as to name it the best au jus he'd had.

The Cuban was a pretty cool take on the traditional sandwich, which paired pork and chicken instead of different types of pork. The sides that came with the sandwiches were extremely varied: the loaded bacon potato salad was creamy and rich and the pasta salad was indulgent. But the broccoli and cauliflower salad stole the show: the roasted corn offset the texture of the broccoli, and the tiny bit of soy sauce in the dressing made it slightly salty.

Full disclosure: the bar manager, Brock, is a high school friend of my husband's, and invited us to dine a couple weeks ago. I would've posted sooner, but we've had a lot of family stuff to attend to recently.

Winter Restaurant Week: JoJo's on Broadway

FullSizeRender (4)When I was a kid, my across-the-street neighbor and I would ride our bikes down to Lag's Eatery for chocolate milkshakes. Although Lag's has since closed, what took its place is JoJo's on Broadway, a family-owned and operated restaurant. Most of Joe and Zelda's recipes are -- or are adapted from -- recipes their parents used in their own restaurants years ago. It's a little fancier than Lag's used to be, but it's still super-accessible food in a casual setting. FullSizeRender (5)The Restaurant Week meal offers a LOT of options. For the soup and salad course, I ordered the New England clam chowder and my friend got the grilled romaine heart. The chowder was creamy, with chunks of clam and tiny bits of veggies that don't get in the way of the creamy soup. The romaine heart was grilled to a crisp and topped with their dad's blue cheese dressing.

Then came the starters. The jerk chicken appetizer was smoky grilled chicken with creamy, spicy jerk sauce. It's hard to describe exactly how good the result of these simple ingredients was, but they came together well and were still really good cold. I will be coming back for more of that (and the Reuben. Apparently the Reuben is amazing). FullSizeRender (10)Next up was the entrée. Both of us opted for the shrimp pesto pasta, which was more creamy than basil-y, but was deliciously rich. By the time the main course came out, we were having a blast: the music was all '90s and early '00s, and the company (and service!) was excellent.

FullSizeRender (11)Though the pie doesn't come with the Winter Restaurant Week meal, it's definitely worth checking out. The chocolate pie was like chocolate pudding on pie crust in the best way possible. I'm not huge on coconut pie, but my friend really liked it, and the texture was nice. Our mutual favorite was the key lime: tangy, not too sweet, and lacking the mouth-coating fattiness of most key lime pies. To quote Arnold, I'll be back.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.